My Pratchett Journey- So Far… A Love Story

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I’m absolutely giddy for today’s post! Because today, on the day of love, I’m going to tell you the story of how I fell head over heels with Pratchett books. Believe it or not, I wasn’t always the giant orange monkey you see now. In fact, once upon a time when I was a wee uni student, two of my closest friends (hi if you’re reading!) were astounded to find that I was a barely familiar with the Discworld. Sure, I’d heard of Pratchett (who hasn’t?)- I even had vague but pleasant memories of The Wee Free Men from when I was younger- yet I’d never launched fully immersed myself in the wackiness of Pratchett’s universe. That, of course, was a mistake 😉

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it”

mort nice editionBecause I knew, the second I started reading Mort that I was reading something special. And, incidentally, so did the rest of my train carriage, where I sat for four hours, smothering laughter through my hand. I instantly fell in love with the humour. I mean, even years on, I still find myself randomly cracking up over the Great A’Tuin- a giant turtle hurtling through space with four elephants resting on its back which support the Discworld… Seriously, I just finished that sentence and I’m laughing again!  Really the jokes and wit *never* gets old.

“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

“Apes had it worked out. No ape would philosophize, “The mountain is, and is not.” They would think, “The banana is. I will eat the banana. There is no banana. I want another banana.”

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

hogfatherSoon I’d leapt into the rest of the series- in fact the Death series ran away with me- I couldn’t stop with that one. I absolutely loved the quirks and eccentricities of the entire world- not least of the characters! I still chuckle over the fact that Death enjoys a good curry- that is so quintessentially English and I love it!! (chicken tikka masala is the national dish after all). Plus, oh my goodness, the stories are so unconventional! If you’re looking for a different Christmas story, you won’t get anything better than the Hogfather.

“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom”

witches abroadAnd actually that leads me onto the pure genius of the ideas. Not only is Hogfather a lovingly satirical take on the way we all act around Christmas, but it also gets right into the heart of the love of stories. Actually, this is a running theme with Pratchett- and is especially noticeable in the witch’s plots, such as the play with fairy tales in Witches Abroad and the *double double toil and trouble* Shakespearean mischief of Lords and Ladies. It’s this complexity and depth which makes the series *so awesome*.

“HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.”

going postalAs you know, I absolutely *love* satire, and this is such witty and intelligent fare. And on such varied topics as well! Sometimes it’s simply about some good fantasy tropes like dragons in Guards, Guards. Sometimes it’s on a much larger scale, like questions around war, in Jingo. And sometimes books like Going Postal are just about that weird British obsession with the post office dammit- incidentally this is one of my favourites and the only one I’ve reviewed.

“What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.” 

guards-guardsAnd yet there’s more to it than all that. Over the years, I’ve fallen in love time and again with so many bonkers, wacky and fun characters from the series! If they were simply flat archetypes for satirical fodder, they wouldn’t be half as endearing as they are. But no! They are so much deeper than that. Death, the anthropomorphic personification of death, doesn’t just exist as a vehicle for the plot- NO!– he actually comes to learn about and sympathise with humanity. Vimes, the slightly world weary copper, who manages to upstage everyone with his unbending sense of right and wrong. Granny “I can’t be having with that kind of thing” Weatherwax, who takes common sense to a whole new level. Vetinari is the kind of despotic politician I can admire (thank you Sir P for giving me the opportunity to utter such odd sentences). Then there’s other favourites like the Death of Rats, Susan and Moist. And lastly, but certainly not least…

“Ook.”

unseen academicalsThe Librarian- who inspired me to create this blog! For those of you who don’t know, the Librarian is one of my favourite Discworld characters. My monkey owes its existence to the great big monkey in the sky… or something (*ahem* that sounded more poetic in my head…) Say hello to my little friend!

“If you try to to take my bananas from me, I will reclaim them from your cold dead hands.”

shepherd's crownAnd so we’re coming to the end of my journey so far… And the fact that I can say “so far” is something else that I’m happy about. Because, as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I’m not done yet- and that only makes me more excited!! I have heard so many wonderful things about books I haven’t got to- not least the Shepherd’s Crown– and I’ve got to say I can’t wait!

So have you read Pratchett? Are you inspired to pick any up now? Let me know in the comments!

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Can we enjoy propagandistic art?

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It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a time and I’m not sure I’ve reached any satisfying conclusions. In fact, I’ve been puzzling over what even is propaganda– some definitions seem too narrow and some too broad. I’ve heard some weird things (some that would imply the only way to not be a propagandist is a to be a pantser), yet rather than talk on anecdotal evidence, let’s look at a definition, because I like definitions, as un-definitive as they often are:

information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

grapes of wrathOkay now we’re getting somewhere- if we focus on the misleading/biased element of this definition, most artists can be let off the hook. Yet, still there’s room for some, like Steinbeck with his pro-socialism bias. And not just a casual bias (for someone’s certainly going to argue “aren’t we all biased?”) but a conscious bias. There is no doubt, for instance, of the messaging in Grapes of Wrath. Now I’ve often joked that “when you can write like Steinbeck you can write what you like”- but the inescapable truth is he was trying to convey a political message in an emotive and ergo manipulative manner. Maybe the term is apt.

Here we get to the crux of the issue- because stating all of this will make many recoil in disgust. Either from my arguments, with a design to spare poor Steinbeck this label, or from his beautiful work, which is not my intention. It would, however, be a shame that reasoned individuals would fail to see the wood for the trees simply because the term is distasteful. It would be even more of a shame if art was dismissed entirely on these grounds.

Granted, not all propaganda is beautiful or interesting or worth examining- but then nor is a lot of art. I will not make the argument that all propaganda has merit- indeed I have a particular dislike for the Soviet or Nazi brands for instance- yet some, as I’ve mentioned, is very aesthetically pleasing. Take, for instance, the Roman propaganda machine. From the Republic to the last of the Emperors, they constructed divine monuments to display their power and beliefs. One of my favourite ancient monuments, the Ara Pacis, is designed purely to show the peace and prosperity of a new saeculum aureum under Augustus. Its friezes depict scenes of tranquillity and fertility- but make no mistake, this enters into the thorny snare of politicised art. Its very position on the Campus Martius dictated as much.

 

With that, all that remains is to discuss how effective it is. And the truth is I do not profess to know how susceptible people are to propaganda- especially the written kind. I have long held to the view “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink”. Frankly, unless you have an unformed opinion, books do not subvert entire mind sets, only nudge you in a direction you were probably already headed. My own perspective is that if I’m being clobbered over the head with an idea or thought I don’t hold, I instantly pull back from it…. so maybe potential propagandists should watch out- they don’t realise how many people they’re alienating with their heavy handedness.

And that rambling point leads me to my conclusion– for if it is not effective and potentially beautiful, I cannot discount all propaganda as unartistic. Personally, as curious as I am about where the intersection of propaganda and art lies, I do not think acknowledging that it is propagandistic is the be all and end all. So, yes, I guess you can enjoy propaganda.

What do you think? Do you agree with me? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Why I’m Happy to be Positive ALWAYS

Okay I can’t actually be happy all the time, as I explained in my post about why I’m happy to be negative sometimes. Since the beginning of the year, though, I’ve been a bit of a slump, which has made me more selective about what books I pick up. On the bright side, this book diet has actually been rather slimming, because though I’m reading less, I’m reading BETTER. So I decided to share a list about why this is a good thing and why I ought to stick to this strict regimen… (even though I’d really like to be able to whizz through more books 😉 )

I’m picking up better books– thanks to you guys I’ve been able to realllly screen out a lot of books. So while my tbr is always growing, it tends to be full of books which I have a lot of high hopes for!

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It also means I’m picking the right books for me! Especially with ARCs I’m super selective about what I do pick up- which has worked out well for me personally- cos even if I end up with fewer books at least I’m confident I’ll like them 🙂 . Not everything is my thing- and that’s okay- I just have to make sure I balance out trying out new things avoiding things I know I won’t enjoy.

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And I’m picking them up at the right time! I’m a massive mood reader- so if my mood doesn’t match the story, it’ll be to the books detriment. So actually listening to my mood is helping pick up better timed books.

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Also, if I don’t feel like reading, I’m not reading– which is such a weird thing to list as positive- but I will say it’s definitely helping me be more zen about reading (well, as zen as a stressball like me can be)

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I’ve also been better at keeping things fresh this month– I’ve been trying new things, but mostly reading from different genres, which has helped with the monotony I felt from reading too many series back to back last year.

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It’s FUN– I know I made this point in my post about negativity- yet let’s be fair it’s much more fun to enjoy yourself! Well, while it lasts…

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I feel AWESOME after I’ve written a positive review. It’s nice to spread a little joy and it’s cathartic in a different kind of way. I hope you’re all enjoying my excitement. Cos…

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Who doesn’t like a happy, satisfied monkey? I’ve been showering books with so many bananas that I’m feeling rather sated. Long may it last!!

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So do you agree with me? Disagree? Do you think reading fewer books can be better? Let me know in the comments!

Politicked Out

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Well here’s something I’m not sure many people on here know: I’m obsessed with politics. It’s pretty hard to get me to shut up about it in real life and I follow a lot of it (too much). So by rights you would assume that every time an especially political book comes out that I’d be excited to read it… but that’s not the case at all.

You see, what with all the podcasts and articles I read, I can’t say I’m especially excited to read books that moralise to me about matters that I’m pretty sure they know nothing about (well the arguments often use generally betray that)

Now I’m not talking about books where it’s pretty clear that they’ll be political- especially non-fiction– because they’re “does what it says on the tin” kind of books. And if you pick up a can of beans and are disappointed when you find that it is in fact a can of beans, then that’s on you. All I can say about that is I went about 6 months subconsciously avoiding any fiction which is overtly political– and now that I know I’m doing it, I’m gonna keep at it deliberately.

Because the truth is- and forgive me for making the political personal- I’m a bit tired of it all. I’m tired of the constant intrusion of politics into art, I’m tired of the fact I can’t go five minutes without being clobbered over the head with someone’s view, I’m tired of feeling like there’s a good chance I’ll have to defend my political views or skirt over it entirely if I do decide to share my thoughts on a book. For goodness sakes- I’m a book reviewer- not an economist, not a social commentator, not a politician.

Yet there seems to be a movement of people- especially in the contemporary world- who are determined to bring messages into books, make every romance political, overpower us all with their propagandistic flair. *Newsflash*: that’s not how it works, nor how it should work (crazy idea, I know, but if you want to be informed you have to read some pretty boring things). I don’t think anyone’s mind was ever changed by a throwaway line in a fluffy romance… just sayin’.

And what I’ve found is that when it comes to reviewing books which have sneak attack politics embedded into their core is that I don’t feel comfortable objectively discussing what I had an issue with– which makes my job as a reviewer nigh on impossible. I can’t lie and I can’t get into the ins and outs without writing an off-topic essay. And I don’t especially want to (see above: not a politician, don’t want to be either). Nor do I fancy being dragged over the coals for my political views. It’s not really relevant.

Of course, everyone has the right to read what they want; everyone has the right to write what they want. All I’ll say, for people planning on shoehorning politics into their books, spare a thought for us poor political junkies who might end up reading it. It’s not necessary all the damn time.

Apologies for the rant, just needed to get all this off my chest. I’ll leave you with this:

What do you feel about politics in books? Yay or nay? Let me know in the comments!

Caught in the Middle- Nanowrimo Wrap Up

Yes, I know we’re quite a bit away from November now, but I think it’s kinda fitting that I’m late with this, cos this is a post about FAILURE (ooh err, it looks much scarier in all caps). To be fair, it’s no fun to admit when you’ve failed a goal you set yourself. For all who remember, I set aside some writing goals in November… which I didn’t complete. Not even kinda close- my plan was to get to chapter 28- and I only made it to 23.

Now it would probably be easier to slink off and not say anything, because what use is it to talk of failure? Well I think more often than not there are lessons in failure as much as success– so here I am to talk about what happens when you don’t achieve your goals…

Well nothing. That’s the whole point. Not that there’s fanfare when you do succeed, but let’s be honest, you can’t exactly have an “I didn’t quite do it” party. You can just try and figure out what went wrong?

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For me, it was a combination of unforeseen life-always-manages-to-get-in-the-way stuff, being too ambitious with my goals and just not being prepared to deal with some more emotional sections of the story all in one go (I can also probably add end of year burnout to that list too 😉 ). I can pat myself on the back for setting aside time to write every single day, yet when I think of how little that could be some days, it’s hard to get super excited over that little victory.

The more important thing I’ve learnt- and something I think about every time I fall into a rut or get blocked- is that perseverance is key. Because, yes, I didn’t quite get as far along as I hoped. And yes, I’ve had months where I’ve got stuck on a story and just can’t. push. on. Yet, every single time I’ve fallen into a rut, or been disappointed with how a project turned out, or just can’t find the time, I’ve managed to find a way to pick myself up again and press on. Heck- book 2 was such hell for me to write that it took 6 months to write 2 or 3 chapters in the middle, followed by a massive overhaul. It happens.

So am I disappointed that I didn’t complete what I set out to do last month? Yes, of course. Is it going to affect how I go on? Only in that I’ve returned to my usual “weekly goals” mindset instead of monthly. And on the plus side, I’ve continued with the “writing every day” mentality.

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I did have a lot of fun while writing in Nano and said some very weird things like: “Zombies are harder to write than I thought” and “I can’t talk now I’ve got to write about a dead cow.” Although, now I think about it, the gloomy subject matter is the crux of the problem- I gotta keep promising myself that the next book will be cheerier. Somehow I just needs to tell my brain to switch it up a gear– because that’s where all the grim ideas are coming from…

why so serious 2.gifAnd you know, I think that’s where I’m gonna leave this post, because it’s probably best not to take myself too seriously. Otherwise I might end up like this guy…take yourself seriouslyAnd no one wants to end up like that guy- at the very least, you don’t want that hair.

 

Why Not Five Stars?

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To infinity and beyond!

(Or rather- why not 5 bananas?)

I’ve been doing this a while and one question I’ve had a few times when I post a 4 banana review is: why didn’t you give this 5 bananas?

Now of course I could do some soul-searching, tear my hair out because AM-I-BEING-MAJORLY-UNCLEAR and wonder WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH MY REVIEWS… but in all honesty, this is a very fair question and I can be totally calm about answering it (*freakout was for theatrical affect only… mostly*). Because sometimes it may not be totally obvious why a book- that on the surface level seems near perfect- didn’t get five stars from me. And, honestly there’s good reasons for that (I hope- otherwise it’s back to the drawing board and the aforementioned angsty soul-searching 😉 )

scooby doo mysteryThere was something missing– and sometimes it’s hard to articulate just what that *something* was… because, well, it was missing. So I don’t know what it was, do I? It’s a mystery to me…

 

 

confused_lion_kingSometimes I might have been thrown by a handful of comments that niggled away at me– like woodworm or termites or maybe something less serious (the bug imagery’s a bit extreme for a 4* tbh) and even though I tried to brush it aside it’s ended up riddling the book with doubt about how much I liked it. Now it’s pretty rare that I won’t say if this was the case, but there are times when I’d have to go into a whole lot of political theory and I seriously can’t be bothered because aghh it was one comment (okay, yes I do have these freakishly strong reactions to random lines in books, but I can occasionally curb my inner nitpick- not often, just sometimes)

whateverMaybe it just wasn’t unique enough. I’m sure as readers we all have tons of stories lodged into the back of our minds- the more we read, the harder it becomes for a book to clinch that coveted OMG spot, just by virtue of the fact that we can compare it to so many other stories.

 

can't get comfortableOr maybe my experience reading it wasn’t tucked up in the perfect spot with pleasant-yet-not-overbearing instrumental music lulling me into a state of calm… Okay I don’t actually need that to enjoy a book- still sometimes I can be tired and distracted and a book needs to do *a lot* of work in order to WOW me. (FYI this is the one I’d ask author’s, on my site or others, to assume is the reason every time 😉 )

banana gifSo, okay, it wasn’t perfect– but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that! I said this in my post about negative reviews and it’s worth repeating: it’s a scale. Just cos something didn’t scream THIS-IS-PERFECTION to me doesn’t mean it wasn’t great- especially since according to my very well thought out rating system, four stars is still awesome sauce with a side of bananas. Speaking of screaming…

 

chill slothIt didn’t make me squeal gleefully. Yes, this is an actual requirement for 5 bananas. I’m a squealer. Not just over books, I think I must have squealed a gazillion times in cutesy tv shows like Once Upon A Time which I’m back watching again… but I digress. Basically the book might be objectively brilliant, but if it didn’t push me into the stratosphere it’s not going to get top marks from me. I’m probably looking something like this sloth though…

tasteGenre bias? And yes the question mark is deliberate, cos I’m not sure about this one. I mean it’s not consciously done anyway. Looking at my book ratings though, I can see there is a clear bias in what books are more likely to get the best ratings. Fantasy and classics are just more likely to produce the aforementioned squeals… whereas contemporary and non-fiction draws the short straw. I have given a couple of books in my less-favoured genres 5 bananas before, but it’s super rare. Yet I feel like this is fair, because at ultimately the whole point of ratings is to showcase taste. So if my personal preference for certain genres is what pushes up my ratings for certain books, then I’m okay with that.

So what do you think? Do you sometimes have trouble articulating why a book didn’t deserve all the bananas/stars? If not- can you teach me some tricks so I don’t get asked this again? 😉 And do you have your own reasons why a book might not be classed as *perfection*? Let me know in the comments!

World’s Worst Writing Advice

There are a lot of people out there giving advice on how to write and that’s a great thing… BUUUUT sometimes it’s just so bad that it just makes me want to get a bit stabby with my pen on the page, scrawling something akin to “arghhhghdjsfg whyyyy”… Okay, I’m exaggerating- though it does physically pain me to see advice palmed out to the masses that is just plain WRONG. So today, I thought I’d share with you some of the *worst* writing advice I have ever seen doing the rounds and what you need to watch out for when it comes to guidance online (and elsewhere).

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Anything that begins “in the past people did x, now they don’t…”– okay, this isn’t something you should totally write off, because it’s good to know about differences of style and technique, however it does need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I recommend when you hear this, trying to come up with some examples of modern writers that practice the technique that supposedly no modern writers use. If you can’t think of an example, read more books!– partly because that’s the solution to all life’s problems, but also because I guarantee there are modern writers who have, say, used purple prose. Generally that’s the problem with generalisations– they don’t work all the time 😉 . Plus, the thing that’s important to note is that art is not a linear progression to what is “modern” or “good”. There is often a belief that art peaks/peaked at a certain point, yet in reality styles are always in flux and what’s in fashion is more fluid than you think.

Getting technical terms *wrong*– oh man, this is a killer for me. Honestly, if you notice someone’s using the wrong terminology, it’s probably time to switch off. Harsh, but true. For instance, I once saw someone saying “don’t start with exposition”- which is not terrible advice (even if it’s a total generalisation so not the best) then follow up with “because they did that in the past” (worst reason ever- see above) and then give the example of the first line in Pride and Prejudice. FYI that’s INCORRECT. The first line of Pride and Prejudice- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”- is an ironic aphorism. This is an inversion of exposition, because it’s setting up an idea in the same way you might introduce advice, only to undermine your expectations. In other words, Austen started with a joke- and if you don’t get that… well then, watch some stand-up, I certainly can’t help 😉 . To equate this with the exact opposite: “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory” is completely incorrect and it’s time to find someone who knows what they’re talking about- capiche?

Giving shitty examples of bad writing– usually with “evidence” the individual has made up on the spot or from their own bad writing. It’s called straw-manning and it’s not the best way to prove a point. The main problem with this is that it’s easily undermined- especially since the other side to this issue is that the writer in question doesn’t balance out the argument with examples of the same technique done well. Edit: Heck- it’s just better to show *how* to do something than how not to do something (in art class, no teacher ever holds up a crap drawing and says “don’t do this”). I originally said all examples (good or bad) should be from a real life book- for obvious reasons it wouldn’t be a good idea to subjectively select “bad” writing from books. But if you are trying to show various techniques, books are a good place to start, which leads me onto…

“There are writers and then there are readers”– I’m not even joking, there are people who give this advice. The truth is if you’re a writer, you ought to be a reader. I have heard people say you need to put the books down at some point if you ever want to pick up a pen, because otherwise it’s too daunting and that’s good advice. However, if you don’t read at all, or read very little, how will you ever learn about what it’s like for a technique to totally work, or what’s been done before (/to death) or what people actually enjoy reading? For all the advice on the internet, there is no better writing education than cracking open an excellent book. (Hey- you know my feelings about books- what did you expect me to say about this one? No one insults books and gets away with it- least of all wannabe writers!)

And that just about wraps up my worst writing advice. Agree? Disagree? Do you have any bad writing advice to add to the pot? Let me know in the comments!